Myra Virginia Simmons

 

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists
Biography of Myra Virginia Simmons, 1880-1965

 

Research and writing by the following high school students: Eleanor Raab, Maria Fernanda Gutierrez, Cami Steppe and Alfonso Benny Siam from Sacred Heart Preparatory, Atherton, CA

Clubwoman, Suffragist

Myra Virginia Simmons was born on June 1880 in California. Her father, William J. Simmons, immigrated from Jamaica, and her mother, Virginia L. Campbell Simmons, was born in California. She had an older sister named Vivien Leonie Simmons. Myra lived much of her life around the San Francisco area, and she never married. The census of 1930 noted that she worked as a cook for a private family.

Myra Virginia Simmons was a passionate advocate for women's rights and had a long documented history of suffrage activism going back as far as 1911 when she served as chair of the Women's Civic and Progressive League in Oakland, California. That year the San Francisco Call mentioned she was active in the push for equal suffrage. The Oakland Tribune also noted in 1911 that Simmons spoke at a suffrage meeting in her role as president of the Colored American Equal Suffrage League (CAESL). In 1912 the San Francisco Call reported that she was a leader of the Alameda County Colored Americans as well as Chairman of a civic center auxiliary to the California Civic League, which met at an A.M.E. church. In 1912 she registered to vote as Socialist. In March 1915 she resigned her presidency of the CAESL, electing to nominate Mrs. Willa Henry as her successor. Simmons was also the president of the Alameda County Colored American Civic Center, and similarly with the Colored American Equal Suffrage League. She delivered a speech at a Woman's Christian Temperance Union meeting in February 1914. A 1915 article in the Oakland Sunshine noted that she was a "thorough race woman."

Simmons's involvement in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union also establishes her as an active feminist who worked with transnational organizations. Not only did she participate in a plethora of clubs, she also organized numerous events such as a parade on Alameda Day, a local celebration, to highlight the accomplishments of women in the black community in Alameda County. The parade became an extension of the activism of these women and called attention to other social issues. One of the social issues of importance at this time was the poor treatment of African American prisoners in San Quentin prison. Myra was successful in raising awareness about these injustices.

Myra Virginia Simmons died on March 16, 1965 and she is buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California, outside of San Francisco.

Sources:

1) "New Organization Outgrowth of Suffrage League" San Francisco Call, November 23, 1911

2) "Annexed District to be Invaded" Oakland Tribune, October 4, 1911

3) Oakland Sunshine, Vol. 13, No. 1, Ed. 1 March 29, 1915

4) United States Census, 1930, San Francisco (Districts 251-409)

5) The Western Outlook (San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, Calif.), Vol. 21, No. 41, Ed. 1, Saturday, July 3, 1915

6) "Negroes to Help in Civic Improvement," San Francisco Call, February 26, 1912, page 8

7) "Colored Suffragist Rally Will be Held," San Francisco Call, October 9, 1911

8) Phyllis Gale, "Myra Simmons, Black Suffragist, 1881-1965," in The Newsletter of the Berkeley Historical Society, 37:1 (Winter 2019), 9-10. Accessed online at https://berkhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2019-winter-newsletter.pdf.

 

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